Recycling company converts plastic into oil
Thermal technology is 'full-scale, commercially viable,' Agilyx leader says
By ANNA WILLARD
Based in Brooks, Ore., Agri-Plas has long recycled agricultural plastic for use in other products, but now it has another option.
Using a unique process, it can turn the plastic into synthetic crude oil.
The process is called anaerobic thermal reclamation, which is being perfected by Kevin DeWhitt, founder and chief technology officer of Agilyx in Tigard, Ore.
Agilyx has been working with Agri-Plas for four years, said Brent Bostwick, Agilyx vice president and business development manager.
In contrast to many alternative energy firms, Agilyx does not receive government subsidies.
"Basically, our mission statement is to produce a technology that can work in the existing economy that does not rely on grants and subsidies to make it viable," Bostwick said.
Agri-Plas has received tax credits in the past for different activities that were equipment-specific, but they are no longer subsidized by the government, said Mary-Sue Gilliland, Agri-Plas vice president of operations and business development.
According to owner Allen Jongsma, Agri-Plas currently has four reclamation units at the Brooks facility and can make between 50 and 60 barrels of oil per day. Using the system, about 8.5 to 10 pounds of plastic produce a gallon of oil.
"If everything goes right, I hope to have 32 more units around the state," Jongsma said. "It's more efficient to haul tanker loads of oil than lightweight plastic."
The units at Agri-Plas were part of the "beta" system that was used to "test and prove certain things," Bostwick said. Units were also tested at Agilyx's on-site research-and-development facility.
"We now have a full-scale, commercially viable technology," Bostwick said.
The oil is shipped from Brooks to a refinery in Tacoma, Wash., via tanker truck, which holds between 200 and 210 barrels. Agri-Plas can have a tank load ready in four to five days. The time varies depending on what type of plastic is processed. Some plastics yield more oil than others, Jongsma said.
When deciding whether to recycle the plastic or reclaim it as oil, it comes down to economics, he said. If Jongsma can get a higher price for the plastic it will be recycled. But if he can get more for the oil or if the plastic is too dirty or too labor-intensive to separate, the oil will be reclaimed.
"There are a lot of variables that go into this," Jongsma said. "But it gives us a broader range of material to work with."
These variables also determine how long a unit will take to pay for itself.
"The payback can be between two and four years, just like any other heavy equipment," Bostwick said.
One of the main reasons plastic is converted into oil instead of recycling it is the presence of organic matter on the plastic. When dirty plastic goes through the reclamation process it becomes ash, which in turn is sent to a company that uses it as boiler fuel, Jongsma said.
"I see this as the purest form of recycling. We are taking a product back to its original form," Jongsma said. "If we can stop it from going to a landfill or being burned or buried, that is a good thing."